How depression has affected me
Couldn’t get out of bed
At my worst I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed; the knowledge that there were things that I actually HAD to do just made it worse.
Initially linked with PMT
At first, my bouts of low mood seemed to occur as a result of particularly bad pre-menstrual tension. For at least a week out of every month I’d be a total wreck and just couldn’t function properly. This would include really low mood that I couldn’t drag myself out of, crying for seemingly no reason and having no energy at all.
Started affecting whole life
Shortly after I started my PhD I realised that this was starting to badly affect my whole life and I was feeling ‘bad’ more often than I was feeling ‘good’. I tried taking a contraceptive pill to combat the PMT, but it seems that this gave me migraines so I was advised to stop taking that pretty quickly. The migraines didn’t help things at all – I spent a lot of time on my own in my flat because seeing other people was just too much.
The best way I can describe the way I felt during this time is that my brain was scrambled, as if it was full of noisy wool so I couldn’t think about anything other than how stressed I felt; I couldn’t think about my work, read books or even listen to other people when they were talking to me. Although the migraines stopped soon after my mood didn’t improve.
Avoiding research commitments
As a postgraduate research student I’m basically supposed to be in my office all day every day, but I was finding it impossible to concentrate for long enough to get anywhere. I’d find myself turning up at lunchtime, staring blankly at my screen for a few hours then leaving early to avoid having to socialise with my colleagues.
Lost motivation and increased drinking
I had no motivation or enthusiasm to organise or do anything, even things I used to really enjoy; my favourite hobby was sleeping. I began to drink more heavily, and would often find myself having a drink by myself before I went out just to cope with the prospect of talking to other people.
Behaving in uncharacteristic ways
I was in a serious relationship at the time, and my depression really badly affected it. I became irritated at people and situations that I knew deep down didn’t really irritate me. I also began to lose my temper, which is completely uncharacteristic for me, and behave in a frankly bizarre way.
I made some very poor choices, including ending the relationship on what was essentially a whim. It was a decision that I later regretted; we were able to patch things up for a little while after that but the damage had been done and we are no longer together.
Badly affected by end of relationship
The eventual end of this relationship affected me very badly for a few months – I just couldn’t see that my life was worth living without my former boyfriend. When he started seeing someone else it felt like a huge rejection. I’ve moved past this now and can see that breaking up was the best thing for both of us, but at the time I just couldn’t see that I would ever feel OK again.
Some suicidal thinking
I made no actual plans to end my life, but frequently felt that it would be easier not to be alive and have to deal with my ‘problems’. On a few occasions I found myself in situations where practically there were ways I could have killed myself, and found that it would cross my mind.
Better but still have down days
These days I am feeling a lot better for the most part, but still have days when I just feel down for no particular reason. I also find that when small things go wrong and I get upset I feel like I’ve fallen back a few steps in my recovery.
Seemed like there was no reason to be depressed
One of the problems that I had in recognising that I was suffering from depression was that I didn’t really consider myself to have any reason to be depressed – nothing particularly bad has happened in my life. Looking back now though I can begin to see where things were happening that weren’t quite right.
When I was 16 or 17 I became very unhappy with my weight; I’d always been tiny as a child but I found that as I got older I couldn’t eat quite as much as I had been able to before and remain so skinny! This led to me exercising excessively and keeping to a strict diet. I still ate a lot, loads of fruit especially, just nothing with any fat in.
Drawn into a intensifying spiral
I’d run for miles every week and remember getting very upset if anything got in the way of my trips to the gym. I’d set myself a target weight to aim for, then when I’d achieved that I’d lower it a little further. I know that it started because I wanted to lose a few pounds, but in the end it turned into more of a competition with myself to see how much weight I could lose.
Called in by my GP
This carried on for a couple of years until my GP called me in because their records had shown that my body mass index was dangerously low. I think the shock of a professional person telling me that I needed to put some weight on was enough to make me do it, not to mention quite embarrassing; I’m pretty sure nothing my friends or family said would have made any difference at the time.
Parents split up
A few years later, when I was 20, my Dad left my Mum. Loads of people’s parents split up though and I suppose I felt that as an adult it shouldn’t really bother me. I’m the oldest of three, and I definitely felt that I had to be the responsible, sensible one and always be on top of the practical aspects of having divorcing parents.
Parents never really happy
Looking back now I realise that, as far as I can remember, my parents never seemed particularly happy together. When they split up I was initially very angry with my Dad, because I felt that he had abandoned my Mum. I have always been very close to my Mum and I just didn’t want her to be sad.
Stayed together for the children
Then when I began to understand the reasons for his decision, I could see that he had done the right thing, for both of them. I’m sure that they were happy once, but it does make me sad to think that they spent so much time together being unhappy. They had separated once previously when I was a teenager, and I was fairly certain that they only got back together for the sake of my brothers and I.
Own first relationship ending
Shortly after my parent’s break-up, my own relationship ended. This was my first serious relationship and we’d been together for several years. My boyfriend was also my best friend and I felt like I had no-one else to talk to about it; I didn’t even tell my parents for months.
Now I’m a postgraduate research student it is very different to doing A-levels and undergraduate degrees; I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist and I relied on regularly getting examined as a way of receiving reassurance that I was doing OK. Without that I think I’ve struggled to feel like my work is ‘good enough’; but I think this is just something I have to get used to!
Realising there was a problem
Once I’d realised that the way I was feeling wasn’t normal, and I didn’t seem to be snapping out of it, I visited my GP who asked me a few questions and established that I was probably depressed.
She prescribed me some anti-depressants which I have now been taking for one year. Whilst these are no magic cure, I think that taking them has helped me, mainly by making me feel a little bit better and be able to ‘think straight’, enough to start to change things in my life.
Avoiding isolating myself
When I was feeling bad I had started to totally withdraw from pretty much any social situation, I think because I didn’t want to inflict my mood on other people, and because it just felt easier to be alone. However, I found that almost forcing myself to spend more time with my friends, and actually being more of a friend to other people was really helpful. I discovered that several of my friends had experienced similar feelings and I think we all found it useful to talk to someone else about it.
Joining new clubs
I also joined new clubs at university, something that I’d never particularly been involved with at all, and found it really enjoyable to spend time with people with whom I had a shared interest.
More varied exercise
I also began to do a wider variety of exercise – rather than just going to the gym or running by myself, I’d attend dance classes with friends. I find activities that involve both exercise and thinking about what you’re doing, like learning a dance routine, to be the most helpful in terms of relaxing and forgetting about work / other stresses.
I found a local Buddhist centre and started to attend courses on meditation, along with some mindfulness sessions run by my university’s counselling service. I did struggle to begin with, but began to feel the benefits almost instantly; it was like a holiday for my brain.
Visiting a Buddhist centre
I also found visiting the Buddhist centre to be beneficial in itself. Everyone was so relaxed and friendly; a lot of people had their own problems that had brought them there and I felt that I could speak freely without being judged.
Addressing underlying problems
After having been on anti-depressants for a few months I realised that although I was feeling better in myself, I hadn’t really dealt with any of the problems I had, or thought I had. So I decided to visit the university counselling service, where I saw a counsellor for one session per week for a month.
I found this really helpful. The lady I saw was lovely and she helped me to unpick some of my feelings and uncover links to things that have happened in the past that I didn’t realise were still affecting me. Sometimes now if I’m feeling a little mentally scrambled, I try to think about what my counsellor might say if I explained the way I was feeling to her and this helps me to try and see things more objectively.
What I’ve learnt
Separate yourself from your thoughts
I’d say the main thing I’ve learned is to separate myself from my thoughts a little, to be able to step back from them and realise that although I’m thinking certain things today, I might not be tomorrow. I’ve also learned to recognise my unconstructive thinking patterns and almost be able laugh at them rather than be overwhelmed by them.
I’d recommend both meditation and counselling
Meditation has been particularly helpful with this. I’d really recommend meditation for anyone feeling anxious or stressed. I would also definitely recommend counselling for anyone suffering from depression, particularly if like me, you’re not really sure why.
Talk to others about how you are feeling
It’s OK to talk to people about the way you are feeling, it doesn’t make them think any less of you and it’s amazing how many people have experienced something similar. In fact discussing my experiences with other people has made some of my good friendships even stronger.
Be kinder to yourself!
I think I’ve also learned to be a bit kinder to myself and perhaps not expect to be able to do as much work as humanly possible all the time – relaxing for a bit is not only acceptable, but actually a good idea!